Previously in the novel: Novice mercenary Leon fails in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the world of espionage is socialite Wallis Spencer. Wallis, in quick succession, dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol and marries Ernest. In one of their first assignments working separately, they fail to stop the theft of Jessie Donahue’s jewels.
Jessie Donahue sat in the tea pavilion of Cielito Lindo, her Palm Beach mansion, on a late morning of October 1929. She puffed on a cigarette between sips of champagne and black hot coffee, occasionally pausing to nibble at a buttered croissant.
Even in her early thirties, her receding chin was disappearing in crepe-like fat. All the jewels she wore could not hide her frumpy figure. All the latest Paris fashions could not hide the fact she looked like a fishmonger’s wife.
But she found comfort in the fact she did not have to be beautiful. Her father was Woolworth of five-and-dime fame, and it was impossible for her to spend all her money in her lifetime. All her millions could not buy her entry into the prestigious Four Hundred which irritated her like an itch on her back she could not scratch. One thing her money could buy was James Donahue. He was tall, handsome, dark hair, bright blue eyes, a wonderful dancer and a glib conversationalist. He came from a relatively rich family in the fat rendering business. Also, when it came to sexual attraction he held no prejudice against either gender.
Old man Woolworth cried on Jessie’s wedding day. He stopped long enough to walk her down the aisle. Her mother did not object to the marriage; of course, by that time she was institutionalized for dementia. James paid attention to Jessie long enough to give her two sons Wooly and Jimmy.
James, dressed in elegant mauve silk lounging pajamas, finally emerged from their mansion and wandered to the tea pavilion. He plopped in a chair, ignored the coffee and went straight to the champagne.
“Good morning, darling,” he purred with a lazy smile.
Jessie put out her cigarette in a half-eaten grapefruit.
“Jim, you know I adore you. You are a beautiful, delightful creature. You have given me two wonderful sons.”
And I worship you, dearest.”
I don’t mind that you are unfaithful to me. I don’t mind you lose millions gambling each year. Anything to make you happy.”
“I appreciate your tolerance, sweetheart.” He leaned over to peck her cheek. “And I am happy. Deliriously happy.”
Jessie pushed him back and leaned into his face, her eyes narrowing into evil, angry slits. “But I don’t like losing my jewels.”
“Of course, Jessikins.”
“You took them.”
Jim’s mouth fell open as he bit into a croissant. “Why, I thought that detective Noel Scaffa—whatever his name was—took them and pretended to retrieve them from the alleged thief for an exorbitant ransom. He spent six months in prison, didn’t he?”
“He was convicted of perjury, not theft.”
“What difference does it make? He shrugged his broad shoulders. “You got your jewels back.”
“I didn’t get back my blue sapphire. I loved that blue sapphire.”
“Remember, Jessie,” Jim interrupted in a tutorial tone, “it was just a cold, unfeeling stone. It could never love you back.”
“You stole my jewels. You broke my trust and my heart!”
He pulled out a cigarette out of her pack on the table, lit it and took several rapid puffs in irritation. “The Fifth Avenue boys arrive on the noon train. They’re coming over this afternoon for a swim party. I hope you had the pool house cleaned properly. The glass must be crystal clear so the sun can properly heat the water. And I don’t want to be embarrassed if they smell that awful pond scum, or whatever it is.”
“I’ve never had any dirt on my estate in my life and you know it. You always pull that when you know you’re losing an argument. Just because you grew up in a house that smelled of pig fat doesn’t mean there are odors in my house.”
“Whatever. Can I go change now? I bought five new bathing suits and I don’t know which one to wear for the party.” He petulantly blew smoke through his nostrils.
“I want you to obtain new jewels for me,” she continued.
Her voice lowered which made Jim drop his nonchalant attitude and listen.
“Special jewels that will have to be re-cut before I can wear them. No one must know what they really are, but I will know. Perhaps then I will forgive you.” Jessie reached out, took his hand and squeezed hard until he grimaced. “Believe me. For you own safety, you want me to forgive you.”
Snatching his hand away, Jim took a quick gulp of champagne. “And how the hell am I supposed to do that?” He tried to expel a masculine grunt, but it sounded more like a whimper.
“Contact the same organization which stole my jewels.”
He stood and paced about the pavilion. “A special mysterious organization that knows how to get away with crime? You’re delusional.”
“No,” Jessie replied with slow sinister composure. “You’re delusional if you thought you could hide your crime from me. I knew about this organization before we met.”
“You did?” Jim blinked, and his cigarette slipped from his fingers. “How?”
“My father told me about it.” She sat back and lifted her double chin. “You don’t think he made all that money selling trinkets, did you?”
“Jessie, darling, I’m sorry.” He began to speak rapidly. “I did it for you. I was being blackmailed. I didn’t want you to be embarrassed by the publicity. I’ll never steal from you again. If a bastard tries to blackmail me, I’ll have him killed. Honest, we’ll work together on it—“
“Shut up, Jim.”
“So enjoy your little party with the boys; but right after that, make your contacts. I want new jewels.”
“How long do I have?”
“I’m generous. A year. Two at most.” She stood to walk back inside her mansion. Looking over her shoulder, Jessie added, “And pick up your damned cigarette butt.”